Bonus Post!: Growler Refills in California

This blog post is a slight diversion from the typical outdoorsy, national parks and wilderness posts that I normally put up.  But since I’m into brewing and beer and many outdoor-oriented folks are too, here’s a quick beer law update for the state of California. Oh, and the below picture is of a growler I purchased at Dart Beverage Center in Stateline, NV, since Dart has rotating beers on tap at its “Moonshine Shack.” I am in no way affiliated with Dart, though they do have a very nice selection of beers. 
Growler purchased at Dart Beverage Center in Stateline, NV.

A growler purchased at Dart Beverage Center in Stateline, NV. With the new law, I will soon be able to have it filled by breweries in California.

If you don’t know what a growler is, you’re probably not into brewing or the craft-brewing scene. And that’s okay. Or maybe you just never bothered to get into it because your state’s laws aren’t conducive to drinking. Either way, there’s good news for beer drinkers in California.

As you likely already know, there are myriad laws governing beer sales, brewing, distribution, and pretty much anything else you can think of related to the consumption of that tastiest of alcohols, beer.  (Bourbon could be in the running for tastiest libation as well, though this post is about a new beer law so I’m giving it top billing today.) But you may not be aware of laws governing the refilling of containers with alcohol.

Clearly, when you buy beer at the supermarket or liquor store, it was packaged and you purchased a labeled, sealed vessel of beer. And when you purchase a pint, liter, flagon, cask, stein, or any of a hundred other beer containers at a restaurant or brewery, and that pint, liter, flagon, cask, or stein is actually filled with beer, then you’re expected to consume it before leaving the premises of the licensed establishment where you purchased it.  The seemingly difficult road for governments to regulate has been how to allow people to purchase fresh beer that’s filled at a brewery or brewpub.

In California, and a number of other states if forums on brewing websites are to be believed, laws regarding the refilling of growlers (large beer-holding jugs, often made of glass and usually 64 oz. in my neck of the woods) aren’t particularly well-defined. The previous version of the California law (Section 25200 of the Business and Professions Code) simply said that beer sold in the state needed a label which included the manufacturer’s name and address, and also the bottler’s information if the bottler was a separate business. A second paragraph in the section went on to say that manufacturers couldn’t use packaging which stated the name of any beer or manufacturer besides the one whose beer was actually inside the container. My interpretation of this rule would be that a California restaurant or brewery could only fill bottles or containers of any sort (e.g., growlers) as long as their label was on the container. Many breweries and restaurants in the state interpreted this rule to say that they could only fill their own growlers that you purchased from them.

While this seems like a CYA interpretation if ever I’ve heard one, that was the reality of filling growlers in California. If you wanted to have a growler filled, at most breweries they would only do it if you purchased a growler directly from them. A seemingly legal solution (I am not a lawyer so this was simply my interpretation of the law) would have been for breweries to put new stickers on everyone’s growlers. Or to add a tag to the handle somehow and put a blank sticker with strong adhesive over the previous brewery information.  In my opinion this would have been compliant with the state law. At least the way it was written.

Lo and behold, California Assembly Bill 647 (AB647) amends the law to say more or less exactly that.  The amended law will have an additional paragraph which states that any beer manufacturer who refills a container has to affix a label with its information while obscuring any other manufacturer’s information. The exact labeling methodology is not defined, but the law simply says that the label shall be affixed “in a manner not readily removable.”

Does this mean every brewery in California will fill your growler that you purchased elsewhere? Probably not. Some will still probably refuse to fill any containers except their own, hoping that all of their beer-aficionado customers will choose to purchase new growlers everywhere they go. I suppose that determination will be each brewery’s prerogative, but I know that I can’t justify spending the money to buy new growlers at every brewery and brewpub I visit. With the updated law, if a brewery or brewpub refuses to fill any growler except their own, it will be because they made that business decision, not because the state won’t allow them to. Because as long as they’re willing to put a label on your container, there won’t be a legal reason they can’t fill it.

As of today, the 16th of September 2013, the amendment is waiting for California Governor Jerry Brown to sign it into law. It has passed both the Assembly and the Senate with unanimous votes and was presented to the Governor at 3:30 P.M. on the 9th of September 2013. So while you might not be able to have another brewery’s growler filled in California today, the odds are you will be able to soon. Oh, but you’ll have to leave your full-size keg at home. Because the law limits allowable refills to a maximum of five gallons.

-Ryan Elson
Author of Don’t Step on the Dirt and Grow Your Family Tree Online


Posted in California, United States | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

National Parks Gun Laws

Disclaimer: While I have attempted to provide pertinent details related to gun-control laws, possession, carrying, etc., in America’s national parks, this article should not be taken as the definitive interpretation with regard to them. If you choose to possess or carry a weapon in a national park, please make sure you are familiar with the federal and state regulations and consult the applicable laws to ensure you are acting in accordance with them. Contact the National Park Service, and your intended destination specifically, if you have any doubts.

If you’ve looked at the news this morning, you may have seen a story about a toddler who accidentally shot and killed herself at Yellowstone National Park over the weekend. Though tragic, you’re likely aware that this isn’t the first time a child has accidentally shot him- or herself with a firearm. But what may strike you as odd is that the incident occurred in a national park. Which begs the question, is one even allowed to have a gun in a national park?  Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is yes.

Until 2010, firearms weren’t allowed in national parks. According to 36 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) – Title 36: Parks, Forests, and Public Property, section 2.4 on weapons, traps, and nets, possessing, carrying, and using weapons are all prohibited “except as otherwise provided in this section and parts 7 (special regulations) and 13 (Alaska regulations).”  There were some exceptions, but unless you were in Alaska, for the most part you weren’t allowed to possess a functional firearm in a national park. Exceptions varied by park and these gun laws were sometimes seen as confusing since they were allowed on some public lands (USFS and BLM land) but not on others (NPS).

While this law may seem like an infringement on American’s right to bear arms as defined in the second amendment, you’ll be interested to note that it was first put in place during Ronald Reagan’s administration. (A similar provision kept visitors from carrying weapons at national wildlife refuges.) This seems unusual since Reagan was a republican and the prevailing republican stereotype with regard to guns is that Americans need to be allowed to possess and carry them at all times. One could be forgiven for assuming that gun-control restrictions, such as those previously in place in our national parks, were put in place under a democratic administration.

One could also be forgiven for assuming that the change to allow individuals to carry their guns in national parks took place during a republican presidency, but this change also goes against accepted stereotypes as it was signed into law under a democratic administration in 2009 and went into effect on February 22, 2010.

You might think that a bill to allow possession of guns in national parks would have a name like “The Guns in National Parks Act,” or “The Now it’s Time to Let Everyone Carry Guns in National Parks in Accordance with the Second Amendment Act,” but if you did, you would be wrong (and slightly verbose). It was actually part of H.R. 627 of the 111th Congress, better known as the “Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009.” What???

I first heard about the new gun rules when I was visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in 2011, but at the time I didn’t actually know that the bill which was meant to help protect consumers by putting new credit card rules in place was also the one which allowed individuals to carry weapons in national parks. If you’re familiar with politics and how these things work, this may not seem overly shocking. If you aren’t, the long and the short of it is that Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, helped with Section 512 (the guns in national parks section) of the bill, which was an unrelated rider to the main gist of the bill, which was to protect consumers by enacting new credit card legislation.

In keeping with the second amendment, it seems reasonable that new rules for gun-control in national parks would have been put in place at some point, regardless of the Credit Card Act. However, this process was likely accelerated since some members of Congress didn’t want to delay credit card reform by fighting the gun-control portion of the bill.

That’s the background, but what does it mean as far as actual gun laws in national parks and national wildlife refuges today? To boil it down to its primary components, the new (well, new in 2010) law provides that individuals who are legally allowed to carry weapons in compliance with state and federal laws must be allowed to do so in national parks as well. However, there are additional rules depending on state laws and a NPS document from 2010 indicates that guns may not be carried into federal buildings for security reasons (this appears to include visitor centers and other government buildings).

Since state laws necessarily vary, it would be impossible to list all exceptions and regulations here, but there are a few items to remember, not least of which is that some national parks are in multiple states, and as such the rules for possessing a gun may change from one part of a national park to another.  In addition, not all states allow for carrying fully automatic weapons, you may not be able to carry your gun on a shuttle bus, and most parks do not allow hunting. In fact, although it is legal to carry your gun in a national park, in most instances and parks and with very few exceptions, it is illegal to actually fire it.

So would your gun be a useful defense against bears, like those discussed in my last blog post? Some folks do carry guns in grizzly country, but in most instances and as recommended by the NPS, bear spray is a better deterrent.

Although it’s now legal to possess guns in national parks, since in most cases it is illegal to actually fire them and they aren’t particularly useful against bears, is there any reason to carry them? In most situations, I would say no, but freak incidents do occur when they might come in handy or might make you feel safer.  An example would be if you were visiting Mt. Rainier National Park on January 1, 2012, the day an Army veteran shot and killed a ranger there.

The bottom line is that you can now legally bring your gun into a national park as long as you do so in accordance with state and federal laws.  Just remember that according to the NPS, “Other weapons such as bows, swords, pellet or BB guns are not affected by the new law and remain prohibited by the National Park Service,” so make sure you leave your Red Ryder at home.

-Ryan Elson
Author of Don’t Step on the Dirt and Grow Your Family Tree Online


Posted in Wyoming, Yellowstone | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Grizzly Bears!!

Imagine walking down the street from your home in South Lake Tahoe, Salt Lake City, Denver, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, or even a large portion of Mexico and encountering a grizzly bear. It may sound like a fantasy, but a few hundred years ago, you could have done exactly that.  And back after the end of the last ice age, their range extended past Chicago, Cincinnati, and Detroit.  Today, however, if you want to see a grizzly bear in the wild, there are only a few places in the continental United States to do so.  And a couple of those locations are iconic national parks–Yellowstone National Park (NP) and Glacier NP.

Human-bear conflicts are on the rise, according to a recent CNN article which cites a 2011 study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.  While the article isn’t specific to grizzlies and the study itself actually only analyzes black bear encounters, population growth and our desire to be outside and explore the wilderness are cited as contributing factors.  Which only makes sense if you think about it.  If more people are spending more time in a predator’s habitat, there are just going to be some chance encounters.

And although many regard black bears as more docile and congenial than grizzly bears, it turns out that this isn’t always accurate. Commonly, black bears aren’t considered a major threat in the same way as grizzly bears unless you happen to come across or between a mother and her cubs. This is wildly inaccurate, since according to the previously mentioned study, the authors determined that in fatal human-black bear encounters (fatal on the human side, I’m assuming) 88% of attacks involved predatory bears, and 92% of the predatory bears were males.

Regardless of the fact that male predatory black bears are accountable for the majority of fatal human-black bear encounters, personally I would still prefer to randomly encounter a black bear in the wild than a grizzly bear. And I would vastly prefer to encounter a grizzly today than one a few hundred years ago.

While we’ve thus far treated grizzly bears as one species, there are and have been a number of subspecies of this enormous predator.  The Kodiak bear, which lives in Alaska, is often regarded as the world’s largest land predator (sometimes this title goes to the polar bear) and can weigh up to 1700 pounds, while the American Bear Society says that male grizzlies in North America can weigh from 300 to 900 pounds. However, there are accounts of far larger California grizzly bears, a subspecies that is now extinct. The largest recorded bear ever was shot by a man named John Lang in the Santa Clarita, California, area, just north of present-day Los Angeles in 1873.  It weighed in at approximately 2350 pounds, multiple times larger than the grizzly bears you’re likely to run across in Yellowstone or Glacier NP.

These bears were so large, that abhorrent though it may seem, they were often used in fighting spectacles for the amusement of onlookers. In these spectacles, bears would sometimes fight longhorn cattle, lions (African or mountain), and sometimes even donkeys.  When fighting a longhorn, Exploring the Outdoors with Indian Secrets, says, “The bear usually killed the bull outright with one blow of a paw at the head or neck that snapped the spine.” Things apparently changed somewhere around the second-quarter or middle of the 19th century, since California Grizzly states, “–in contrast to most of the battles of earlier times, the bull usually was the victor–.”  The author’s claim is that the Spanish vaqueros had caught the largest grizzlies possible, while the Americans, who had come into control of the area after the Mexican-American War and started west during the gold rush, were probably trapping smaller grizzlies and even using black bears.  This was about the same time that public sentiment, and a declining bear population, began putting a stop to these spectacles. Fights continued to be staged, sometimes with donkeys instead of bulls, and an 1865 fight even pitted a bear against a mountain lion, with the mountain lion winning the duel. An African lion was shipped across the Atlantic to fight a grizzly bear, and although the fight sounds like it would be intriguing, reports state that it was won quickly by the bear.

The bottom line is that grizzlies didn’t always win these fights, but since people don’t have claws or horns, there is little doubt that in hand-to-hand combat a grizzly should prevail. As such, if you visit Yellowstone or Glacier NP, make sure to bring bear spray along.  And for Pete’s sake, make sure you know how to use it and make sure it’s accessible and not at the bottom of your pack. (The same goes for urban environments and mace, if you carry it. It won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use it or it isn’t quickly accessible.) On your belt or in your purse, if you carry one in the wilderness for some reason, would be good locations.

While grizzlies can be dangerous, they don’t generally want to encounter or engage with human beings, so as long as you take proper precautions and know how to act when in bear country, there’s really no need to be overly afraid. Bears are simply trying to live their lives, and although chance encounters do occur, groups like the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) are always conducting research to help manage and monitor bears.  In fact, the IGBST just started a two-month study period to tag and monitor grizzly bears in the Yellowstone NP area.

The IGBST’s work is in conjunction with the Endangered Species Act and is being carried out to help monitor and support the bear population recovery, so although bears are currently found solely in Alaska, Canada, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, it’s possible that at some point in the future, if their recovery continues and Americans can determine how to interact with them safely, they will reclaim more of their natural range. And if that happens, then perhaps someday you or your descendants will once again see grizzlies in states like Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. I’ll let you know if I see any vacationing in Tahoe.

-Ryan Elson
Author of Don’t Step on the Dirt and Grow Your Family Tree Online

Stephen Herrero, Andrew Higgins, James E. Cardoza, Laura I. Hajduk & Tom S. Smith, “Fatal Attacks by American Black Bear on People: 1900-2009,” Journal of Wildlife Management, April, 2011.
Storer, Tracy Irwin, California Grizzly, 1996
Macfarlan, Alan A, Exploring the Outdoors with Indian Secrets, 1982

Posted in Alaska, California, Colorado, United States, Utah, Wyoming, Yellowstone | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Goose Lake, the Brewing Lair, and Plumas County, CA (Pt 2)

After we arose and had breakfast, we secured all of our supplies in the bear boxes or in our car and headed for the trail head.  We had been to a local bike shop the day before (Howling Dogs) and were told our trail was about ten miles with about 3000 feet of climbing (or at least that’s the figure I remember).

I have owned a mountain bike for years, but I cannot really say I’ve done much mountain biking before this summer.  As such, I knew this would probably be a tough ride for me, so I brought my Camelbak full of water and a lot of snacks.

After we turned onto the road and followed it for 1/2-mile, we were surprised that we didn’t see the trail head. As these types of distances are sometimes wrong, we kept going for a further mile or so before deciding that we had missed it.  We backtracked and, lo and behold, there was the trail, a half mile from the road.  We parked, got our gear situated, and were off.

Mountain biking on Mills Peak Trail

Taking a break on Mills Peak Trail

The trail had a lot of up. And although I was fresh, the multitude of small rocks in the trail quickly became tiring. Biking among the trees was certainly pretty, but I handle short bursts of up better than long sustained climbs (when participating in organized sports, I always used my fast-twitch muscles and rarely worked to develop my long-distance abilities).  After a while, we emerged onto a dirt/gravel road.

We’d been notified by the woman at the bike shop that the trail wasn’t complete yet and it made use of a road to follow an exposed ridgeline.  I’m glad we were there in early morning, as climbing in the heat of the day would have been pretty tough.  One of my problems when climbing is that I can’t keep as much speed and consequently I have more trouble adjusting to rocks in my way and other hazards. I never fell while on our climb, but I lost my momentum more time than I can count and kept having to restart on the hill.  These problems aside, we finally made it to

Mills Peak Lookout Tower

Mills Peak Lookout Tower

the top of the road.  I knew where our destination was, but my distance estimates were woefully inaccurate.  As I was already getting low on water at this point, I started conserving.  An hour or two of climbing later (and a good deal of walking on my part), we finally reached the Mills Peak fire tower lookout.  I had never been so tired on a bike.

My sister’s girlfriend’s dog was also rather worked, but after he had some water and we had a look around and some food, we started our descent.

I would like to tell you I enjoyed the ride.  I would like to tell you that. But I won’t. Because for the most part it wouldn’t be true. Don’t get me wrong: I can see the ride’s appeal and both Dondra and her sister enjoyed it. It was simply a bit too much for me, especially after having ascended the mountain in the first place.  My legs were just too tired to handle the downhill very well, the ride was a bit too technical for me (at least for such a sustained distance), and I was and had been out of water for some time now.  Perhaps the fact that a shuttle takes folks to the top and picks them up at the bottom should have tipped me off that I wouldn’t enjoy the round trip.

View from Mills Peak, Plumas County

View from Mills Peak, Plumas County

Would you enjoy it? Well, if you only do the downhill (Howling Dogs can get you details on the shuttle, but I believe they ran twice on Saturdays in the summer) and you can ride over small rocks for a number of miles, you very well might.  And if you’ve got the stamina to do the round trip (or climb up another trail which is shorter), you might also like it. And if you’re a better mountain biker than me, you might well think it’s amazing. But if you’re less advanced, you might consider whether there are other options. Plus, I don’t know that the trail was actually ten miles. I didn’t wear a GPS to track my ride, but in looking at maps, forums, and other’s tracked rides, I think it was at least 14 miles, and possibly up to 18.  If you’re planning to go, I would recommend confirming these distances yourself.

Having finally completed the most challenging mountain bike of my life, I promptly dropped my bike next to the car, grabbed a water bottle, and wandered off to rest beneath a tree. We had made it, and although I think that the dog, Cody, and I were in the worst shape, we quickly got ourselves together so we could hit up the Brewing Lair once more.

This time, we ordered pints of our favorite brews from yesterday, played cornhole, and attempted to slackline (it would have been easier if the line were more taught). Cody was far less rambunctious than the previous day and he mostly wandered around the brewery, smelling the smells, getting pets from other patrons, and peeing on things. We played some cornhole and had a nice young man named August (age five, I believe) join us.

Finally, it was time to return to camp, do dinner, and bunk down for the night. We’d had a good trip, but we had to get underway early the next morning so Dondra’s sister could get to work. It was a fun, quick trip that was an easy drive from the Tahoe/Reno area and that wouldn’t even be a bad drive from Sacramento or the Bay Area.

Would I return to Goose Lake (aka. Leech/Duck Lake)? Certainly. Would I return to the Brewing Lair? Without a doubt. Would I mountain bike the Mills Peak Trail again? No way. At least not until I’m better on a bike. But you might like it. And there are loads of other hiking and biking trails around. And if that’s not for you, you can always pop over to Blairsden and visit the Brewing Lair, which in my opinion was the real gem of the weekend.

Missed Part 1?  Click here!

-Ryan Elson
Author of Don’t Step on the Dirt and Grow Your Family Tree Online

IF YOU GO: Goose Lake is located on the Gold Lake Highway in Sierra County, CA. It is easily located by punching it up on Mapquest, Google Maps, Bing, or the like. It costs $10/night, though the second night there were no envelopes remaining, so I’m not sure how many folks ended up staying for free. There are pit toilets, but they were similarly ill-maintained, so I would make sure to bring my own toilet paper. There are lots of other small campgrounds in the area too. For biking and skiing info, I would personally recommend Howling Dogs and for some tasty beers, I would recommend the Brewing Lair. There are a number of restaurants in Graeagle, a few shops, and a number of people were hanging out and paddleboarding (SUP) in town. It all seemed very pleasant. And the gas was actually cheaper than when I had driven through Truckee, CA–go figure. Just be conscious of the fact that your take on the ease or difficulty of mountain biking trails may be different than others.

For more info:

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Goose Lake, the Brewing Lair, and Plumas County, CA (Pt. 1)

Goose Lake

Goose Lake

Goose Lake has no geese.  At least none that I saw.  But the names of lakes, or anything for that matter, are not always in keeping with their characteristics.

Often, lakes (or at least the area) named things like Silver Lake, Gold Lake, Mud Lake, Rock Lake, and the ever-descriptive Fish Lake, have produced things like silver, gold, mud (this is true of most lakes even if their names are not “mud”), rocks, and presumably fish. Lakes named after people and towns also make sense, but sometimes I get the feeling that things are simply named as they are because no one could actually think of anything appropriate.

“Quick, Bob, what are some adjectives for this lake?  We need to name it so that we can finish our survey and move on to the next one.”

“Well, it’s a large, long, crooked, green-colored lake, complete with mud, rocks, and fish.”

“Okay, but we’ve already used all of those adjectives to name other nearby lakes.  Do you have anyone special you’d like to name it after?”

“Honestly, I think we’ve named lakes after everyone I know, and even a few people I don’t.”

And so we end up with names that don’t have anything to do with the natural features themselves.  Things like Lake Fanny Hooe, Nimrod Lake, Peckerwood Lake, Explosion Lake, and even Big Dummy Lake.  And while Goose Lake may have actually had geese at one time (or even now but on days when I’m not there), it still doesn’t seem like a particularly appropriate name.  Leech Lake might be a better choice.

My girlfriend, Dondra, and her sister, Bri, have been going to Goose Lake since they were young, though due to the apparent absence of geese and the recent appearance of leeches, it had to be renamed (at least by myself) just last year. I’ve been to Leech Lake a few times now and we decided that this past weekend would be the perfect time for a quick trip.

We got underway and although the drive is only about two hours from our house, we quickly realized that this might not have been the best weekend.  As we drove through Sierraville (make sure to stop and pet the animals behind the gas station), we saw how smokey it was.  The American Fire was belching smoke in the general direction of this pretty, little town.  We decided to continue on and see if things were any clearer at Leech Lake.  They were.

When we arrived, I parked at the entrance/day-use area and waited for my girlfriend to report back on whether there were any open sites at the lake’s north entrance. While one can park at a pull-out on the road and carry gear to each campsite, if your car can make it and there’s anything open, the north entrance is my preference. Be aware that there is naught for room to turn around and you’ll be driving over and around some pretty large rocks in the road.  I have taken a passenger car there (a Mistubishi Galant) and I’ve seen a friend do likewise, but I definitely scraped the bottom of my car so to drive in to some of the campsites I would definitely recommend an SUV, as I had driven on this trip.  (There are no signs that tell you there is no turnaround or you need a high-clearance vehicle, so fair warning.)

I am told that the lake used to be a free-for-all with no fees, no established bathroom facilities, or anything else, but that’s not the case today. Fees are $10 per night and there is a pit toilet, though no clean water.  Due to the smoke (there still was a little bit) we decided to only pay for one night and play the second night by ear.  Now, campsite secured, it was time to visit the brewery.

Dondra and I like to brew our own beer and having an appreciation for all tasty barley- and rye-based libations, we were exciting to visit a new brewery.  The Brewing Lair is based in Blairsden in Plumas County, CA.  We’d had their beer once at a Tahoe-area restaurant and we’d been so impressed, we asked the waitress where it was from.  Not everyone is as into the details of beer as we are, so she had to go check, but when she came back and told us it was about an hour or so north, we looked at each other in surprise.  We realized that would put it somewhere near Plumas County and we resolved to visit the next time we were in the area.

The Brewing Lair had five beers on tap when we visited.  There was a saison, and four types of IPAs, including a regular IPA, a red IPA, a black IPA, and a solo-hopped one which used only Citra hops.  All were delicious.  For five dollars, we each ordered a tasting flight which came with all five tasters in a lovely metal carrying tray.

Now that I’ve established the beers we had at our disposal, let me set the stage. The Brewing Lair is located a few hundred yards up a dirt road from the highway and the taps are located in the same building (and the same room) as the fermentation vessels.  Once you collect your beers, making sure not to step on any of the dogs (including Cody, Bri’s dog) running around the property, you wander outside where you can either sit at a table on the patio area attached to the building, or you can find a table or a bench down the hill.  In an open space among the trees, there are a number of rustic wooden tables and seats, some of which appear to have been carved from felled trees with a chainsaw.  There are cornhole boards (though, as a disclaimer, I will say that the boards and bags were not regulation), a slackline (I am awful), and there is a disc golf course on property. We finished our beers and resolved to return the next day.

Golden retriever chasing duck at Goose Lake

Cody chasing a duck while on a swim. This is as close as he ever got.

My girlfriend’s sister is something of an excellent bicyclist (both road and mountain), so we had brought out mountain bikes with us.  But not being overly familiar with the area’s trails, we stopped at a local bike shop (Howling Dogs Bike and Ski) in Graeagle.  The folks there were extremely nice and recommended a trail up Mills Peak for the following day. It sounded a bit extreme (well, maybe not for accomplished mountain bikers, but for me), so we resolved to lay low, drink a few beers, and hit the trail the following morning.  Cody was the only one who didn’t lay low, preferring instead to torment the ducks at Goose/Leech/Duck Lake.

Our ride turned out to be rather more than I had bargained for.

Read PART 2!

-Ryan Elson
Author of Don’t Step on the Dirt and Grow Your Family Tree Online

For more info:

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Tijuca National Park – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Although the World Cup isn’t until next year and the next Summer Olympics aren’t until 2016, you’re probably aware that both major events are being held in Brazil.  And while the World Cup is almost ten months away (it runs from June 12 – July 13, 2014), if you’re planning to attend, you’ll probably need to plan ahead to purchase plane tickets, request vacation, etc.  Though there are twelve World Cup sites throughout the country and as of March 2010 there were 64 national parks, for this week’s post I’m focusing on Brazil’s most visited park which happens to be located in Rio de Janeiro, one of the World Cup sites and the host city for the 2016 Olympics.  So if you’re planning to travel to Brazil for either event, or even at another time, here’s a quick write-up on Tijuca National Park.

When you think of Brazil, you probably think of soccer, rain forests, an identifiable flag, and the Christ the Redeemer statue.  And while you may already know that Christ the Redeemer is located in Rio, did you know that it’s located in Tijuca National Park itself?

Tijuca National Park is relatively small at about 8000 acres, but due to its location, it is the most visited park in the country with almost 1.7-million visitors in 2009.  Although the area was once deforested by plantations, King Don Pedro II was ahead of his time and ordered the area to be reforested in 1861.  Today, the forest is said to keep the temperature of Rio approximately nine degrees cooler than it would be without the forest.  The park is the largest urban forest in the world and, as I’m sure you’ve seen in pictures, the peaks within the park offer unrivaled views of the city and surrounding beaches.

Another interesting natural feature within the park is the Rock of the Topsail, the Pedra da Gávea.  As the largest coastal monolith in the world at 842 meters above sea level, it would be a striking feature in its own right.  However, the rock has also weathered to the point where it appears that there is a face carved into the rock itself.  It seems that this is the result of erosion, much like the Old Man of the Mountain from New Hampshire or Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park in California. However, there are those who believe that the rock face in Rio was actually carved there intentionally.  This theory is largely contingent on a carving which reads “TZUR FOENISIAN BADZIR RAB JETHBAAL.”  And if there are any of you reading who aren’t literate in Phoenician, this carving supposedly translates as “Tyro Phoenicia Badzir Firstborn Jethbaal,” which would date the face to about 850 B.C.  While I am not familiar with the Phoenician language myself, I understand that there are inconsistencies in the text which has led some scholars to believe it’s a forgery.  Since the text was reported in the 1800s, some believe that it was a political tool used by then-ruler Pedro I.  One thing about the face is clear.  Either it is a naturally occurring image caused by erosion, or the carvers were not nearly as good as Gutzon Borglum when he created Mount Rushmore.  But if the face was truly carved in 850 B.C., we probably shouldn’t be too hard on the Phoenicians.  After all, they may not have known how to use dynamite to carve the rock as Borglum had done.

If you choose to visit the park, entrance is free (in fact, of the 64 parks, 12 didn’t have an entry fee, 18 did, and the other 34 weren’t actually open to the public [strange, I know, but I suppose preservation for areas that are closed to the public is preferable to no preservation at all]), though these things are always subject to change, and its open year-round. A railway will take visitors to Corcovado (i.e., Christ the Redeemer), though the wait can get long at peak times.  There are warnings about safety within the park, so consider going with a guide or with friends and not staying out after dark.

Between Christ the Redeemer, Pedra da Gávea, the amazing views, the waterfalls, wildlife, and the free entry, there’s almost no reason you shouldn’t visit Tijuca National Park when you’re in Rio.  Unless, of course, you don’t like perfect weather, in which case you probably shouldn’t visit Rio in the first place.  Because July and August lows in the mid-60s, you probably won’t even need a jacket when you attend the next summer Olympics.

-Ryan Elson
Author of Don’t Step on the Dirt and Grow Your Family Tree Online


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Manhattan Project National Park- USS Indianapolis Sunk 68 Years Ago Today

On the 30th of July in the year 1945 (68 years ago today), the USS Indianapolis sunk when it was hit by a Japanese torpedo.  Loads of ships and submarines were sunk during WWII, so you may be asking yourself, why is the USS Indianapolis special?  For one thing, it played a critical role in ending the war and the upcoming creation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park (more on that later).  But the reason you’ve most likely heard of it is because of the circumstances surrounding its sinking and the ordeals the survivors dealt with.

The ship, which was traveling from Guam to the Philippines, took such a vicious torpedo hit that experts and survivors indicate the ship sank in only 12 minutes.  According to the History Channel, of the 1,196 men on the ship, about 300 went down with the ship.  Approximately 600 more died before they were rescued four days after their ship sunk.  In total, 317 men survived.  The circumstances surrounding the deaths of the 600 men who perished after the torpedo hit but before being rescued are decidedly troubling.  Some died from injuries sustained in the attack, some drowned, but many men were attacked by the sharks that descended upon them after the USS Indianapolis went down.

We’re lucky that more men didn’t die.  The reason the men were rescued on August 2 was because a plane on a routine mission spotted them and radioed it in.  Apparently there wasn’t time for an emergency distress call before the ship sank.  Which is unfortunate because it may have saved the ship’s commander years of heartache and an untimely death.

After the war ended, Captain Charles McVay was court-martialed for not sailing his ship in a zigzag pattern.  Though other ships were lost during the war, he was the only captain disciplined for it, and he would ultimately commit suicide in 1968.

Okay, so the USS Indianapolis went down 68 years ago today. The survivors had a hellish time before their rescue, and the captain got a raw deal.  But didn’t you say this had something to do with the Manhattan Project and a national park?

Yes, in fact, I was just getting to that.  But first, I should mention briefly that Captain McVay was posthumously cleared for his role in the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 2000.

It turns out that a few days before the ship was sunk, the Indianapolis had just completed a mission to deliver some of the parts that were used to assemble the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.  So although the Enola Gay was the airplane that dropped the bomb, there may not have been a bomb to drop (at least not on August 6th) if the USS Indianapolis had been sunk a week earlier.  Which brings us to the national park.

Summer 2011.  Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recommends that a national historical park is created to commemorate the Manhattan Project, the project that led to the creation of the atomic bomb.  Unlike most parks we’re familiar with, since the scientific breakthroughs and research took place around the nation, the park was recommended to have three separate areas.  These three areas would be in Los Alamos, New Mexico, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and in Hanford, Washington.  While somewhat controversial (approximately 140,000 people died in the bombings that ended WWII), the Manhattan Project was certainly a turning point and a significant event in the country’s (and world’s) history.  After Salazar’s recommendation, the next step in the process was to go through Congress.

Although work was certainly going on in the background, the next important milestone was in March 2013.  That was when a bill (S.507) was introduced to actually create the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.  According to, the bill next needs to be voted on by the Senate, then the House, before ultimately being signed by the President.

There are still details to be worked out, and the most recent online documents appear to be a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cost estimate that was put together and released on May 29, 2013.  The Secretary of the Interior (currently Ken Salazar) needs to certify that enough land has been obtained to actually create the park. The CBO indicates that acquiring the land should cost about $21 million, another $750,000 is needed to create a general management plan as required by the bill, and there would be about $4 million annually in operating costs. 

Will the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act (S.507) ultimately pass?  If it does, will it include land in all three recommended areas (Los Alamos, New Mexico, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and in Hanford, Washington)?  And if so, will any of those sites discuss the USS Indianapolis‘ contribution and subsequent demise?

-Ryan Elson
Author of Don’t Step on the Dirt and Grow Your Family Tree Online


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